The county-based Invasive Species Committees (ISCs) and a representative from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture's (HDOA) biological control program were honored recently in a floor presentation by Senator Mike Gabbard. Each legislative session, State Senators have the opportunity to honor groups and individuals who have distinguished themselves and deserve special recognition. Senator Gabbard selected these programs because Hawai'i's ecosystems are in a crisis due to invasive species and they are on the front lines of combating the threats.
The Invasive Species Committees are projects of the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit and the Research Corporation of the University of Hawai'i. The ISCs are island-based partnerships on Kaua'i (KISC), O'ahu (OISC), Maui (MISC), Moloka'i (MOMISC), and the Big Island (BIISC) that work with government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private businesses and landowners to protect each island from the most threatening pests with a proactive approach. Each ISC has a staff that includes a field crew who works across thousands of acres every year to rapidly respond to and control new invasive pests. The ISCs target species that have high potential to severely impact the economy, environment, agriculture, human health, and quality of life, such as fast-spreading miconia trees, noisy coqui frogs, and stinging fire ants.
Senator Gabbard also honored Dr. Mohsen Ramadan of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture as an important member of the statewide network committed to addressing invasive species issues. "Dr. Ramadan is recognized internationally as one of the best exploratory entomologists because of the dedication and passion that he brings to his work in defense of our native species. But what makes him unique is his willingness to risk his life in remote and hostile locales all over the world to find biocontrol agents to eradicate or control invasive species," said Senator Gabbard.
HDOA's biological control program is a component of the Department's Plant Pest Control Branch. Biological control is an important tool to manage widespread pests that are beyond the capacity of field crews. Dr. Ramadan was responsible for finding the natural predator of the Erythrina gall wasp in its native range in Tanzania. The wasp arrived undetected on cargo in 2005 devastating Hawai'i's native wiliwili trees as well as ornamental species of Erythrina used in landscaping and as agricultural windbreaks. Since the biocontrol agent was successfully released in 2008, native wiliwili trees are making a comeback.
The Hawaii Invasive Species Council (HISC) offers partial funding to the ISCs and HDOA biological control program's foreign explorations as part of the HISC's mission as an interagency collaboration to support the prevention, response and control, research, and public outreach efforts of invasive species programs across the state.
"We are extremely grateful for all the hard work and dedication of our island Invasive Species Committees," said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. "Their on-the-ground quick action has prevented introduction or spread of many dangerous pests to our islands. Governor Abercrombie demonstrated his commitment to keeping invasive species out of Hawai'i by making the restoration of inspection positions at Honolulu International Airport a priority in his first year as Governor. This is a battle that we must fight and win to protect our native ecosystems and the health and economic wellbeing of our islands," Aila said.
The O'ahu Invasive Species Committee works to guard O'ahu from coqui frogs, miconia, false kava and fireweed. Since it was founded in 2002 by devoted volunteers, OISC has stopped the spread of the watershed-destroying miconia tree in an effort to protect enormous tracts of native forests across the Ko'olau and Wai'anae Ranges. OISC has also partnered with DOA, DLNR, and the O'ahu Army Natural Resources Program to remove coqui frogs in Wahiawa.
In response to the recognition, OISC Operations Manager Rachel Neville said, "O'ahu is densely populated and very urban, but it is the native forests at the summits of the Ko'olau and Wai'anae ranges that allow so many people to live here. They capture rain to provide water for O'ahu farmers, residents and visitors; soak up the 24 million metric tons of carbon produced by Hawai'i residents each year; and anchor soil to mountain, preventing erosion and mudslides. But those things only happen when the forest is healthy. The OISC staff works hard to ensure that O'ahu forests remain healthy by systematically removing the highest threat invasive species. All of us at OISC view our work as a service we provide to O'ahu citizens and we are honored to be recognized for it."